Yesterday's Fear of Success vs. Fear of Failure generated thoughtful conversation around the issue.
But what causes Fear of Success in organizations?
Aren't organizations all about "success" and "self-confidence? No!
Over time, people learn where they stand in the "pecking order" of the organization. It's not only the hierarchical order. The dynamics are the same as the dynamics in families.
Here's one actual script:
CEO Phil is well-liked but not very assertive. The Management Council meetings start off with energy and ideas. Ralph always clashes with Phyllis and Phyllis doesn't back down. Leon mediates the discussion and the rest of the group allows him to do that. When it reaches equilibrium and there is calm, people take a break. The issue at hand gets discussed outside the room in pairs. If two members agree to support each other on the issue, they go back in and resume the discussion. Laurie, the new CFO, offers her appraisal of the situation. She's told:
"We appreciate that but you are too new to really understand the ramifications."
Ding. Round 2.
Laurie makes another attempt at showing the reasoning behind her thinking. This time there is just silence.
Laurie has just realized that it may be risky to be all that she can be. Not because of lack of expertise. But because the group's equilibrium is established and comfortable.
If they risk listening and acting on a new person's point of view:
1. The balance of power will shift.
2. The "rules of engagement" will change.
3. Even though results might be more successful, the power structure may not survive.
4. Laurie now has to re-think what she will inject in the future. If she is too successful she may anger those around her and can't rely on the CEO for protection.
5. Some members of the group begin to wonder: "If Laurie is a star, what will happen to me?" (After all, it is all about me).
Finally, if Laurie does succeed, what will happen to the departmental dynamics across the organization?
Will Finance begin to have greater clout? If so, whose influence will be lessened?
If your organization lives life as a zero-sum game, then it is blocking the ability for successful people to be successful.
It's a cultural issue. And this is what organizational diagnosis skills are all about. In this case, the CEO has the position power to change the rules. That also means becoming more assertive himself.
His opening remark at the next meeting: "Successful people are more important to me and this company than maintaining an equilibrium that promotes mediocrity. Here is what we're going to do, starting right now..."
This is just one example of how "Fear of Success" gets in the way of a full organizational life. You've experienced other examples. I know you have. Don't hide your experience under a bushel.
Weigh in at the Comment section and enlighten the conversation!
Bonus Fear Factor!!
Shane at Zoomstart lamented the fact that he had a favorite T-Shirt depicting his take on Fear. Alas, too many trips to the washer and dryer left it tattered. So Shane, here is the official All Things Workplace version:
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